Peppery Cabbage Sichuan Style
La Bai Cai 辣 白菜
A popular appetizer that normally comes free in Sichuan restaurants. It’s easy to make at home, and goes well with a variety of dishes, for example, if you are planning on serving whole Roast Pig or Suckling Pig, this would be a good complement to the heaviness of the meat dish.
10 ounces Chinese Cabbage (aka Tientsin Cabbage or Celery Cabbage)
2 tablespoons Salt
4 inches of Ginger Root
8 dried Red Cayenne Peppers
1 ½ teaspoon Sesame Oil, or more to taste
½ teaspoon ground Cayenne Pepper
1 teaspoon Sichuan Pepper
6 tablespoons Sugar
8 tablespoons Vinegar, such as Chinese Red Vinegar
½ teaspoon Salt
First dissolve the 2 tablespoons of Salt in some cold Water, enough to cover the Cabbage. Wash and clean the Cabbage, then cut it or tear it in strips and soak it in the salty Water for 2 hours.
While the Cabbage is soaking, shred the Ginger using a coarse shredder. Slice the red Cayenne Peppers with a sharp knife, and set aside, seeds and all, with the shredded Ginger.
Grind the Sichuan Pepper in a mortar or spice grinder and set it aside.
After the Cabbage has finished soaking, press out all the liquid. Put the Cabbage in a dish and cover it with the shredded Ginger and Cayenne Peppers.
Next heat the Sesame Oil with the ground Cayenne Pepper and the powdered Sichuan Pepper and when it releases its fragrance spread it on the of the Cabbage and mix to combine.
Add the Sugar, Vinegar and final spoonful of Salt, and using the top of a pot or a plate, press for a few minutes to squeeze out any excess liquid. A few heavy cans of canned food placed on top of a small plate or saucer work well here.
Give the pot lid or saucer a final push to squeeze out as much liquid as possible and then serve. The dish keeps well and after a few hours or a day the sharp distinctive Sichuan flavor will be more intense.
An old Chinese cook’s handbook says, “This dish is peppery, crisp, sour and sweet; the color is white with red accents and it is suitable for all seasons.”